After the almond blossom the next sign of spring is the wild lavender. I remember seeing it for the first time in profusion a few years back. There was a stretch of what can only be called desert, alongside the beach of Achile, where I used to walk Trixy most mornings. After choosing alternative routes for a couple of days we returned to Achile to find it covered in the delicate, pale purple flowers, and ever since I’ve thought of its arrival as the beginning of springtime.
I wasn’t looking for it in the desert landscape on Thursday, and it was a quiet delight of an interesting and surprising day to find it, the taller spikes moving gentley on the breeze.
9am isn’t particularly early to meet for a short hike, but I’d stayed up too late the night before, exploring and travelling vicariously thanks to the internet, so I wasn’t over-bright and breezy, when Cristina and I arrived at Adeje’s parish church of St Ursula, which appears to keep an eye on the town, sitting, as it does, high at the top of the main thoroughfare. It didn’t help that I’d only downed one, small cup of coffee, remembering that an hour or so’s hike over a barren landscape doesn’t afford bushes to hide behind when you have a call of nature.
The parish church of St. Ursula
It was the feast day of San Sebastian, patron saint of the municipality, and an hour and half’s walk over what was once the main route connecting the pueblo high on the hill to the shore below, had been arranged by the municipality, with a traditional fiesta at its conclusion. You could call it a pilgrimage, or a keeping alive of history. Crops were transported down to the shore by this route using oxen and carts.
We had a sharp and sunny start Thursday morning as we hung around the church steps, waiting for the guides to lead off. The weather here in the south since Christmas has been so perfect it makes you want to hold your breath. Clear mornings which have melded into hot middays, which then melted into chilly evenings and even chiller nights, true desert weather. It was nice to note that I wasn’t the only foreigner, that others were interested in the traditions of their adopted home, or vacation home.
Setting off from the church at the head of the town, we wound our way through the quiet streets. It has to be said that most of the (possibly) 40,000-ish inhabitants of the municipality were probably taking advantage of the local holiday to sleep in. There weren’t many people around at least, as we snaked along, escorted efficiently by the local police who stopped what traffic there was to let us pass. Even when we reached the bridge which struts the autopista we didn’t seem to be causing too many holdups.
From the autopista it’s just five minutes downhill to the first marker on the journey, and we streamed through the gateway, historical marker alongside, which heralded the beginning of the “real” walk. 19th century Adeje was a very important agricultural area, where fields of maze and sugar beet surrounded the village, and where rich banana harvests were produced for Fyffes. That company used to loan, on occasion, a bullock cart to transport the statue of Saint Sebastian to the beach of La Enramada below, but this day we were simple pilgrims on foot.
It was less than another five minutes from the gateway to the vantage point from which I took those great sunset pictures in December, and quite a few people stopped there to snack or drink water, or just to admire the vista, our route, tumbling down to the ocean, spread out before us.
It wasn’t a hard walk by any stretch of the imagination, there were several families with pushchairs, and some elderly people. The ground is volcanic-rock solid, with just a few places where it’s worn away and you’re liable to slip on loose stones. We crossed a small brook at one point, but skipping over a couple of stones and we were over. On a walk like this, keeping up, more or less, with the group is half the fun and half the point of it, it’s a communal thing, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to admire that lavender or other flora as we went.
As we neared our destination we came to El Humilladero, the site where, according to legend, there has been a sighting of the Virgin Mary. A simple shrine now marks the spot, and several of the older walkers paid their respects. In reality is marked the end of the walk in one way, as people seemed to drift off on their own from that point.
Feeling ridiculously chipper at the thought of a cold soda we trudged the short distance to the road, and rounded a corner to find the church square already thronging with people. The elegant hermitage of San Sebastian was built in the early Sixties, but if you look to the bottom left of the picture, you can see the red-tiled roof of the tiny, original church.
After gulping down the soda and nibbling a red-hot empanada (a fried pasty or pie) we spent the next, few hours watching the festivities, but that I’m saving for another day.
We set off back in good spirits, which is just as well, because, remember I said it was not a difficult walk down? Down, note – which means that the return was all uphill. The day was hotter, a scortching mid-afternoon, the soles of my hiking boots were coming off and flapping as I walked, having met their final indignity in the ocean, and there were many more stops for water or excuses to take photos than on the downward journey, I can tell you!
This was when I remembered that I’d done scarcely any exercise since the neck problems began in June. I practised my breathing the way I’d done in yoga, and dreamed of a cold beer back in the village at the end. It was, though, enjoyable. I love variety in any guise, and the last walk I’d done was along the flat banks of the river Wey in crisp October, with the Autumn leaves crunchy underfoot, so clambering over volcanic rocks, sighing over pretty clumps of lavender and admiring distant, misty mountains was fine by me.
Everything was hunky dory until we left the open ground and hit the tarmac, where the soles of my boots flapped even harder, and the sun seemed even hotter.
A whistle from a passing truck driver bucked me up no end – hey, at my age that’s something (obviously he was too far away to spot the wrinkles and the multiple chins). In the end we made it though, feet aching and tongue hanging out, and me with no time for that beer I’d been anticipating. I hurried home to find that my ESL students had to postpone because their car had broken down en route, and I have to say I thought that maybe the gods (or maybe the saints) were on my side, as I tugged off mystill sodden boots and my salt encrusted jeans. After which I flopped on the sofa, feet on the back to allow the blood to recirculate. Today I know it was the uphill which was the “killer”, but also a good thing, as my thighs ache something rotten. I didn’t do my power walk this morning, but I think yesterday awarded me a couple of days grace!
Just to give you a clue about the next post, I can tell you that these handsome gentlemen below overtook us on the path, and very charmingly posed for me.